Tech trainspotting at RailTech Europe 2022
It was great to see a busy Railtech Europe 2022 show. Like many sectors, the railway industry suffered during the pandemic with passenger numbers dropping from 8.2 billion in 2019 to 4.8 billion in 2020. But as numbers begin to bounce back, there was clear evidence looking around the show of a lot of interest in how mobile computing technology could continue to help improve our railway networks.
One of the interesting challenges about the railway network in Europe is the diversity of technical infrastructure. Electrified railway networks operate with a wide range of different voltages and signalling systems vary from country to country. This quirk of historical development and levels of regional investment means that national networks are at varying stages of technology adoption.
Ever changing challenges
As someone focused on helping rail operating companies make the most of the latest mobile computing technologies, it brings variety and regular new challenges to be overcome. Take ticketing and payment systems, for example. Some countries in Eastern Europe are making the initial transition from paper-based tickets to stored-value contactless smartcard systems, others are already moving away from this technology to NFC-based payments using debit or credit cards and mobile phones. The requirement for lightweight, yet rugged, devices to issue, take payment and check fares is a growing opportunity. For example, in Belgium, conductors use Panasonic rugged tablets to expand payment options for passengers and to provide up to date travel information.
Train maintenance is another area of the railway network where the use of mobile computing technology is widespread. The Rolling Stock Business of Siemens Mobility Ltd has issued its 550 train maintenance engineers with rugged Panasonic TOUGHBOOK detachable mobile computers at 11 train maintenance depots across the UK. The devices, which helped the Siemens business take a major step towards a paperless work environment, are used by engineers for train diagnostics, maintenance, employee communication and health and safety compliance. The additional data and timely information captured by using the devices improves maintenance turn-around times and ultimately improves train availability.
I noticed at the show that our devices are even being used on innovative engineering carts which travel the network to scan the railway lines and monitor for hairline cracks in the tracks. The Panasonic devices are used to capture and interpret the data for the engineers as the surveys take place.
Looking around the show at different exhibitors stands, it was great to see that so many railway solutions are using Panasonic TOUGHBOOK devices as an integral part of their offering – some even I wasn’t aware of.
Another noticeable trend in the industry is the wider adoption of Android rugged mobile devices. The strength of the Android Enterprise offering and the ability to develop Android apps quickly and efficiently has provided real choice for rail companies with Android and Windows rugged devices available.
For many, train spotting is a popular past time across Europe but for me train technology spotting was the entertaining opportunity at this year’s RailTech Europe. I look forward to returning in 2023 to see the next innovations.